The magic system of this book relies on the four elements: water, air, earth, and fire. If you are born talented, you can control the individual Kigh (elements that populate the world) by singing to them, and generally you specialize in one or two of the particular elements. Annice, the heroine, is one of the few who can sing all four quarters, but her strong suit is generally air. For some reason, I was confused about the magic system for the first hundred pages or so, but that was resolved after I reread some of the previous passages. Sometimes my mind wanders a bit too far when I devour fantasy novels.
The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'The Bards of Shkoder hold the country together. They, and the elemental spirits they Sing – earth, air, fire, and water - bring the news of the sea to the mountains, news of the mountains to the plains. They give their people, from peasant to king, a song in common.
'Annice is a rare talent, able to Sing all four quarters, but her brother, the newly enthroned King Theron, sees her request to study at the Bardic Hall as a betrayal. To his surprise, Annice accepts his conditions, renouncing her royal blood and swearing to remain childless so as not to jeopardize the line of succession. She walks away from political responsibilities, royal privilege and her family.
'Ten years later, Annice has become the Princess Bard and her real life is about to become the exact opposite of the overwrought ballad her fellow students at the Bardic Hall wrote about her. Now, she's on the run from the Royal Guards with the Duc of Ohrid, the father of her unborn child, both of them guilty of treason – one of them unjustly accused. To save the Duc's life, they'll have to cross the country, manage to keep from strangling each other, and defeat an enemy too damaged for even a Bard's song to reach.'
The key element to this book is the characters. Although the plot itself is very interesting, without the character interactions (particularly between Pjerin [the Duc] and Annice) it would be a bit plain. Annice is stubborn and unwilling to compromise with just about anyone. Unfortunately, the Duc/Pjerin is the same way, leading to much of the action of the book being fought with words. There is also Stasya, who is a devoted friend to Annice (and perhaps more- I wasn't paying that much attention in the first 100 pages), who helps enable her sometimes ridiculous schemes. I was surprised to find the attention to detail/personality that was infused in each character- even periphery ones were given an unmistakable voice.
Annice's pregnancy is a key part of the book, but it also helps explore and abolish some fantasy cultural norms. Throughout the book, Annice is given advice she doesn't necessarily want, and constantly told she mustn't do this, that, and the other thing, which given her personality, she naturally does anyway. Never once does she consider giving up the baby, though it would make it a lot easier on her if she considered it. She basically epitomizes the trials and victories of single motherhood throughout the book, but what really clinched it for me was her fortitude in defending herself, even when she knew she didn't necessarily have to. Her conversations with Pjerin were priceless.
Sing the Four Quarters is an unusual take on traditional fantasy. The heroine's pregnancy only benefits the plot, enhancing and invoking drama wherever she goes. Though the magic system sometimes takes the back seat to it, it provides the perfect spectacle for a fitting finale. As soon as I finished this book, I ordered the rest of the series, despite the lack of Annice and Pjerin being present- the author simply grabbed my attention so well. If you're in the mood for fantasy that has both a sense of humor and an uncompromising heroine, you should consider Sing the Four Quarters for your next read.
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent fantasy that proves pregnant heroines are for the win!
Content: Ages 18+ for adult-ish references and humor, along with the usual fantasy violence.
Page Count: 419 pages